Weekly Writing Challenge: (Changes) In An Instagram
It was 2011 – the year of the Arab spring. Not a day passed without more news of protest, blood, violence, intervention, sweat, war, censorship, and occasionally even: hope. A friend of mine was about to board a plane to Egypt. She was going to spend a year in the middle of all the chaos studying Arabic and trying to stay alive. Unlike people born, raised and suppressed in the Middle East, she had the luxury of choosing whether or not to face the turmoil. She was aware of this and it’s probably why she didn’t back out in the end. This isn’t about politics, though. Not about injustice. It’s simply about someone’s life changing.
We were standing in the kitchen, snacking on left-overs, a bag of chips and a small container of peanut butter with chocolate chips that we’d just bought at Whole Foods. College dinner.
“Do you think they’ll let you go?” I asked her.
We were both on spring break and I was visiting her for a couple of days.
“There’s so much going on right now.”
She shrugged. “I keep checking the news – so far, I don’t know. I really wanna go, though. It seems to be the place I should be right now…”
I reached for a chip and we were quiet for a while.
I was about to board a plane, too. I wasn’t headed for a conflict area (unless that’s a term you’d apply to the European Union; I guess, some people would). After studying abroad for a year, I was going home – whatever that means. I wasn’t sure then, I’m not sure now. I stood at the check-in, hoping several things: that I still had enough money in my account to pay for my extra suitcase, that my entire luggage wasn’t overweight (obesity is a serious problem among luggage of all sorts, people should be much more aware of it), and that they wouldn’t have me check in my guitar so it wouldn’t get smashed by potentially overweight suitcases somewhere along the way. Thankfully, all this hoping kept me too busy to fully realize that I was just handing over my life (that I’d managed to stuff into two large bags and a bag pack, god knows how) to the well-dressed lady behind the desk in front of me. So I stood there, smiling blankly, watching my life disappear behind her. I might have seen one of my friends cry from the corner of my eye but I successfully ignored it, even as I went to say my good-byes.
“Do you think you’ll come back?” she asked into the silence. We had quietly moved over to the sofa in the living room.
It was my turn to shrug. “I would really like to…I don’t know, either. Let’s hope so.”
People always talk of hope when there’s nothing else to hold on to. It’s usually about the time they rediscover belief and prayer.
She looked at me: “You should try.”
I looked at my hands: “We should try.”
And we sort of hoped together.
I was probably the only person on the plane that wasn’t relieved when we landed. I didn’t applaud the pilot. I usually don’t because it really makes me feel silly. That day I didn’t because it really made me feel all sorts of things. As I waited in line to have my passport checked I simply started crying. Someone asked me whether I was playing the Cello, pointing to the guitar on my back, entirely ignoring the fact I stood there sobbing as if someone had just abducted my child or my puppy or even worse: both, and that I was just two breaths per second short of hyperventilating. People never cease to amaze me, and not always in a good way. “It’s a guitar” I mumbled while cleaning my glasses and double-checking whether I could see things in full color to make sure I hadn’t just landed in the middle of a Marx Brothers movie. Unfortunately, I hadn’t. I stood, in fact, in the middle of plain, old reality: close to broke and about to move back in with my parents, at least for a while. A seven-hour flight can certainly change things.
My friend had to spend the summer waiting for news. News of protest, blood, violence, intervention, sweat, war, censorship, and occasionally even: hope. News of the program that sponsored her studies.
Eventually, she e-mailed me “I’m going to Egypt in fall!”
I e-mailed her back: “Come visit then – I’m half-way home for you!”
Although I still felt uncomfortable with the term home.
I spent my summer waiting, too. Waiting to feel — real.
I subscribed to the New York Times newsletter to stay updated with the situation in the Middle East. To make sure my friend was studying Arabic and staying alive at the same time. And because I was looking for something — real.
I also got a side job: to occupy me until classes would start, and even more important, to earn some money. So I worked. I bought a ukulele. My grandmother passed away. I wrote a couple of songs. I went to my grandmother’s funeral and squeezed my mother’s elbow. I moved into a small apartment. Fall came and I still found myself cleaning my glasses from time to time, double-checking whether I could see things in full color. Just to make sure I wasn’t part of a movie. Unfortunately, I wasn’t. Only sometimes, it still felt like it. And I wondered what could possibly change that.
(in response to the weekly writing challenge)
William felt their tiny hands, warm and sticky, clutching his own – one on his left, the other one on his right (nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands, Edward whispers into the sky). They were waiting for William’s sister to come and pick them up. She was never on time. They knew as much and they loved her (her big laugh, her exaggerated demeanor, the way she winked and squeezed one’s shoulder) so they usually didn’t mind. That day, however, when she finally arrived 15 minutes late, William snapped at her and no one said a word during the drive. His sister and her husband sat up front, he sat in the back of the car with the children. They were still squeezing his hands.
Emma, the younger one, had always been very attached to her father: when he left for work, she’d cling to his coat until he stepped out of the house and when he came home, she’d greet him with an impatient hug at the front door, no matter how late. She refused to go to bed unless he tucked her in, unless he stroked her hair until she fell asleep: eyes closed, breathing calmly, steadily – a metronome’s breath. She had gotten more and more difficult the last couple of months. Every night as he was about to get up from her bedside, she grasped his hand – much like she did now – and commanded him to stay. Just a couple more minutes. Or maybe until the grandfather clock struck again. Or maybe until it was bedtime for Mason too. Or even better yet: until the next morning. Often she woke up in the middle of the night, find him gone, and scream and cry until he came back into her room with the promise not to leave.
It was a bright and clear morning. The three of them had been up early: washing their faces, brushing their teeth, combing their hair, having breakfast (trying not to spill anything because they were wearing their good clothes). They seemed to be in an awful rush. They thought, maybe, if they went faster, the day would go by faster as well. Yet, of course, it didn’t. It turned out to be one of the longest days they’ve ever had (even longer than the day before your birthday, even longer than New Year’s). Emma and Mason were sure if they let go of their father’s hands, it would never end.
Mason’s hand felt strange – he was not like his sister at all. Not only because he was older, not even because he was a boy. In fact, he was much like his mother: collected and cool, too proud (or too timid) to show any sign of emotion (she’d even refused to call him Will instead of William – whimsical nonsense, she’d said, I’ll call you by the name your parents carefully picked out for you, by nothing else). Although he, too, craved his father’s attention. He was always looking for ways to impress him: bringing home good grades, showing interest in the same things he was interested in (politics, Dizzy Gillespie, car races, Russian novels, E.E. Cummings). Now, however, his small fingers (he was the older one of the two children, but in the end, he was only 11) were so tightly wrapped around his. His mouth was dry and he thought he could feel his son’s hand tremble. Then he realized that it must be his own. Actually, that it must be nothing but her trembling that’s slowly become his as he held her hand night after day after night after day – until there was no more hand to hold, just the blood-stained handkerchief with the small embroidery in the upper right corner: Sophie (nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands, Edward mutters under his breath).
When they arrived at the cemetery, there was already a small gathering of people. Some of them had to make an effort not to look too upset. Others tried to make an effort to look somewhat saddened. Most of them nodded at the family pitifully. They shook their heads behind William’s back (how was he going to raise the children on his own? his sister, surely, can’t be of any help. the neighbors heard her cough so loudly, they knew it wasn’t going to be much longer) because they couldn’t shake his hand (because still, one was holding Emma’s, the other one was holding Mason’s).
The night Sophie died, he found himself in the living room all of a sudden. He couldn’t really remember how he’d gotten there or what he’d meant to do. The entire night was a blur: coughs, doctors, the smell of morphine, condolences (hushed: don’t wake the children), helplessness, darknesses (in all shades of night). He rubbed his eyes and sat down in the big, red wingback chair. He tried to think and quickly decided to try and not think instead (think of her). He reached for his pipe that lay on the end table to his right, filled and lit it. He sat there an hour or two, smoking, not thinking (or trying not to), gazing at the rocking chair on the other side of the room that still held the two balls of wool and the knitting needles she’d left there (socks for Emma and a hat for Mason). When it was 3am Emma woke up as usually and called for him. He’d left her bedroom door open so he would hear her: a voice, high and distant as a cloud, echoing in the hallway. As he was about to leave the room, he paused and leaned against the doorframe. He glanced at the unfinished hat and the one sock in the rocking chair another time and pictured her porcelain hands, knitting through the nights (when she couldn’t sleep). He’d fallen for her hands the first time he’d seen them (nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands, Edward says in a woman’s voice, forever echoing in the hallway).
Fact 1: The world itself is probably the least kids-oriented place that has ever existed.
It’s way too serious, especially when it comes to things that don’t need to be taken so seriously like, for example, how to make horrendous loads of money instead of just plain loads of money. At the same time, though, it neglects things that should be taken more seriously – such as kids. It’s way too hectic, too. There’s no time for the truly important things in life – yeah folks, I’m talking about naptime. That and trying to figure out whether the cloud on the far right of the oak tree looks more like a raccoon or a carrot after all.
Okay, to be fair: I don’t know of all the places that have ever existed. So the world is really just the least kids-oriented of all the places I know – I have no evidence whatsoever that proves the non-existence of a place that is even less kids-oriented somewhere in the universe (like adultplanet or serious-guys-talk-serious-business-world).
Fact 2: A tiny bit of kids-orientation in many places would most likely make the world a better place.
Imagine the Starbucks on your way to work sends you off into the day with your coffee in a cup with a smiley face, your favorite Sesame Street character or a note that says “you’re awesome, have an awesome day!” (all the a-letters replaced by shiny gold stars, of course; you know you’d love it) – wouldn’t that be a great way to start your morning?
Well, at least it would be a lot better than reaching for your regular coffee cup only to realize that even after being a loyal customer for almost two years the lady that’s been selling you your coffee ever since still thinks your name is Leslie instead of Lisa (that or she really needs to learn how to spell… or seriously improve her handwriting).
Imagine further that your boss rewards your great work with funny stickers! I know what you think: forget the stickers, I’d rather have a raise. Well, the truth is: on adultplanet you won’t get either so you might as well take the stickers and be happy. Who knows, you might even be able to trade in 10 stickers for a no-overtime-coupon! Wait…really?! (Yes, yes!) And guess what? It’s Jell-O day in the cafeteria, too. Admit it: this is bliss.
(These are just a few examples, too.)
Fact 3: Kids are simply awesome.
I am an almost-teacher who has done her fair share of student teaching and it’s just a fact: kids are truly awesome. I admit, they are also sticky, noisy, antsy and they wouldn’t notice irony or sarcasm if you dressed them up in sparkling superhero costumes specifically labeled “irony” and “sarcasm”, but they’re nice enough to laugh at your jokes even if they don’t really get them, so who cares.
Another big plus: even when you draw a picture that consists of nothing but stick figures or you play them a song that is really just one line and the same chord over and over again, they think you’re a great artist. That just makes them really awesome. You can’t argue with that now, can you?
(That’s a rhetorical question: you can’t. I’m serious: you cannot, I won’t allow it – I’ll write a note to your mom if you do…oh, wait: sorry. Maybe I’ll address your mom in your blog’s comment section, though. Ha!)
Fact 4: Kids are (mostly) willing to learn anything you are willing and (watch out: keyword coming up) motivated to teach them
– such as proper restaurant behavior. Kids are like tiny sponges. Not because they wear square pants, but because they have this incredible ability to soak up any piece of (interesting) information they are confronted with. If the information presenter aka parent/teacher/sports coach/you name it shows the least bit of enthusiasm for the matter that they are trying to present, they will most likely spark some interest. Yet beware: kids know when it’s fake, oh yes, they do.
Besides, they intuitively know how to follow your example: if Daddy tries (and successfully manages) to chew with his mouth closed – for a change – they will realize it’s not the worst idea to try and do the same. They think it’s fun to act all grown-up for a while, too (as long as they feel like they don’t have to).
Of course, there are limits. It just doesn’t make any sense to make them sit through a 7-course dinner: they simply can’t sit still for that long because it’s really boring. Why would anyone want to sit through a 7-course dinner anyways? They’re just really long and boring and at the end of all these hours of boredom, miraculously, you’re still hungry. Why are 7-course dinners popular again? Okay, I lost my train of thoughts just now and I’m feeling hungry…hm.
Fact 5: Kids can’t choose not to be around adults, either.
I’m sure they’d sometimes prefer to just get rid of us silly grown-ups, yet: they can’t. They depend on us silly grown-ups for a while (because the world is not only too adult-oriented but also full of crazy people and other crazy things). If they have to stick it out with us, I think it’s only fair if we do the same for them.
188 days and nothing has changed except for the colors – they’ve gotten deeper and darker.
It’s so early, you can’t even call it morning yet. I fumble about in the darkness trying to make my way from bedroom to kitchen without bumping into any sharp-edged pieces of furniture or slipping on and/or tripping over one of the not so well placed power cords.
The kitchen is kind of small but has a big window on one side that really makes you forget just how small it is. I open it and breathe in the cool morning air. I love the fall: the colors, the smell, Halloween, pumpkin soup – a breath of: candy apples, the first hints of chimney smoke, another deep breath: colorsthesmellcandyapplesjackolanterns. I gaze out the window for a while as I’m waiting for the water in the tea kettle to boil.
I hardly ever catch a sunrise in the morning. Today, however, I’m standing in the kitchen to watch the sky change color from a misty gray to a freakishly bright orange that sort of reminds me of Cheetos and also of pumpkin soup and Halloween (it’s mid-October already), sort of, and of a t-shirt you used to wear back when it was still summer and warm outside, sort of.
Roses are red, violets are blue, it says. But these days roses come in all sorts of different colors (ranging from yellow to universe black, striped, polka-dotted, leopard, zebra, whatever) and once September’s passed, flowers don’t have any color anymore. Not really, they freeze, that’s all, it’s not a secret. Roses are red, violets are blue. Blue and tacky.
And then another thing, red and blue (and violet in the end): at first, you can’t really see anything at all, it starts off slightly red. It turns blue quickly – and it stays like that for a while. In the end, though, it changes to a deep dark shade of violet, like grape jelly or Kool-Aid, maybe. Until, eventually, it heals. Eventually. Hopefully.
He (Daniel) is so small, it’s almost funny but mostly, he’s quite amazing. His little hands, with the little fingers, and the webbing between the second and third that makes him even more amazing. His eyes, though, are the best part: they’re enormous and bright and ink blue or lead grey depending on the time of day (maybe because the way the light changes or maybe depending on his mood because that’s how it works with a ring someone bought me a long time ago on a fair).
While my sister holds him, though, they are completely closed: he is asleep, finally. My sister’s face is all red. She’s been holding him for a while, a tiny cherry pit pillow on top of the two of them to calm down his nervous stomach. Her husband’s been looking at them the entire time. He’s been an engineer for a couple of years now but he’s never created anything quite like that before. His face is all red too. Red as the toy fire truck in the corner of the room.
It’s dark out. It gets dark so early these days. There’s always one day at the end of September or beginning of October when it suddenly hits me: the days are getting shorter, at the end of the day there’s more darkness than light – you should stock up on candles.
Candles to brighten the room (in case you should forget to pay your electricity bill), candles to stick into a carved out pumpkin and candles to put on a cake: it’s my birthday in fall and since this year, it’s my nephew’s too. It also used to be my grandmother’s birthseason, until last year. I suppose, though, it still is – birthdays don’t expire (think of Christmas, but that’s for another season). I light a candle for her on the 11th (I stocked up) – it’s blue. Like the day. But I hold the candle as it’s burning and it’s warm in my hand and it, sort of, reminds me of summer when it wasn’t so cold out yet, sort of.
188 days and nothing has changed except for the colors – they’ve gotten deeper and darker.